Ford Probe I (Ghia) (1979)
1979 Ghia Concept Car, Probe I represents the re-birth of the “American Dream Car” that Harley Earl’s Buick Y-Job started in 1939 and GM continued with the Motorama Extravaganza’s of the 1950’s. By the beginning of the 70’s the purpose built Dream Car was all but extinct.
Probe I is a product of the collaborative efforts of the famous Turin based design firm Corrozeria Ghia and Ford. Ghia, which traces its roots in coachbuilding back to 1915 and is former home to design icons, Guigaro, Tjaarda and De Tomaso, hand crafted this one of a kind, fully functioning prototype.
Probe I marks the beginning of a new era. An era brought about by a fuel crisis, at a time where a shift in consciousness toward a cleaner environment was born.
From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1700s until the late 20th Century, Industry consumed as if the Earths bounty were infinite with little to no regard for tomorrow.
In 1973 everything changed. The Arab Oil Embargo that year provided the catalyst. From Oct 1973 to March of 1974 the price of a barrel of oil quadrupled.
Automakers common motivation is to sell automobiles. As a designer, Earle’s solution to this fundamental problem was to anticipate and set styling trends. Automotive designs became based on excess and planned obsolescence with secondary emphasis placed on innovation and function.
Ford had a “Better Idea”. As a facet of Ford’s Project Alpha, Kopka, head of Ford’s design department, reasoned that a design based upon serious Aerodynamic Science was an attainable solution to the fuel economy issue. At that time there was a considerable bugaboo regarding Aerodynamics in Automobile design. It was argued that cars would all look like jelly beans and all look alike. Kopka believed there was considerable room for implementing advanced aerodynamics without sacrificing style and individuality.
Don Kopka was made Ford’s vice president in charge of design in late 1980 upon the retirement of Gene Bordinat. Some years before he had realized that the upright and flat fronted design of Ford products of the Seventies was doing nothing to contribute to the ongoing and expensive battle to meet Federally-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements instituted in the wake of the ’73 energy crisis and oil embargo. Kopka championed design changes that by his estimate added 1.5 miles per gallon to Ford’s CAFE in the early Eighties, changes that cost under $20 million to implement but were the equivalent of nearly $3 billion in powertrain re-engineering.
Kopka adopted a progressive and long term approach to changing the outlook within Ford to be receptive to aerodynamically efficient design and began, with this concept in 1979, the Probe series of aerodynamically designed concepts and studies. His goal was nothing less than to change Ford’s thinking about design.
Probe I was created at the Ford Dearborn Design Center where Kopka was the executive director of the Advanced and International Design Studio. Its sleek and pointy aerodynamic shape, flat wheel covers, popup headlights and skirted rear wheels achieved a drag coefficient in the wind tunnel of 0.25, some 37% less than the 0.40 then typical for a 2door 4-passenger coupe. It was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1979. Probe I was extensively displayed at shows and events following its introduction and received widespread media attention, helping to spread the impression that Ford was on to something.
Built on a Mustang chassis of the period, or perhaps a Pinto, there wasn’t much difference, the Probe I package envisioned a collection of the advanced technological functions with which show concepts seem to be endowed. Little of it works, but it would be easy to cut a slot in the console and then say it “can be started by a universal credit card which also can be used to buy gas and pay tolls.” Probe I once had the 2.3 liter Mustang/Pinto 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission but they have long since been removed. Ford claimed the Probe could achieve a fuel economy of 39 miles per gallon.
Finished in red with black lower body sides that accentuate the deep rear wheel skirts, Probe I has a body constructed of metal with a fixed tinted glass roof panel. The windows also are tinted glass. The wheels have machined disc-type wheel covers to reduce turbulence. The interior is upholstered in red cloth with tan leather trim. Its gauges appear to be functional.
Probe I’s age is showing, and not well. The exterior is in no better than fair condition, with a material number of scratches, edge chips and a small dent in the driver’s door. The interior appears to be in decent shape.
The Probe 1 Concept is a seminal step Automotive Design. It represents the rebirth of the American Dream Car, a milestone in function through form and represents a new direction in Automotive Design that changed an entire Industry.